This year’s Santa-Cali-Gon Days had a unique visitor who actually traveled the entire Oregon Trail on foot and is now trekking another 900-mile historic trail.
Bart Smith, 55, of Tacoma, Washington, said he boarded a Greyhound bus in his homestate last week that drove him to Franklin, Missouri, the earliest starting point of a 19th century transportation route known as the Santa Fe Trail. Since last Friday, he has been following the old route by using a book entitled, “Maps of the Santa Fe Trail” as a guide. Equipped with a baby jogger that holds a gallon and a half of water, food that he buys from convenience and grocery stores along the way, a camera, tripod and an iPhone in case of an emergency, he said he averages 20 miles a day. The trail enthuasist said it was purely coincidental he arrived in Independence just when it was having its annual festival that commemorates the Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails.
“I was passing through Buckner earlier this week and happened to see the festival being mentioned in your paper,” Smith said. “I was honestly not aware of it.”
This isn’t the first time Smith has made a historic trail journey. The former construction worker has been hiking virtually all of the U.S. National Historic and Scenic Trails since 1992. More recently, Smith walked the Oregon Trail. He managed to finish the 2,200 mile pioneer route that begins here in Independence from June 15, 2012, to Oct. 31, 2012. Some of the other trails that he traversed so far include the Nez Pearce National Historic Trail, Appalachian National Scenic Trail, El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail and even the Trail of Tears, where the Cherokee Indians were forcefully removed from their homelands in the American South and traveled to present-day Oklahoma in the 1830s.
“On some of these trails, you can still see the ruts left by the caravans,” he said.
A typical day for him consists of always being cognizant of all roadways, he said, so no headphones for him. Plus he said it is especially difficult to make a journey this time of the year with the hot temperatures, especially with being about to venture through the desert climate of the Southwest via the Santa Fe Trail. After traveling an average of 20 to 25 miles each day, he says he looks for public camping grounds, which sometimes prove to be a challenge.
The hiker said he always had a passion for photography and one day just decided to make it his life over 20 years ago. It was “a hobby that got way out of control,” he laughed. He keeps each journey well-documented by taking photos of famous landmarks or scenic landscapes.
“I also do it (walk national trails) to pay tribute and homage of the people of yesteryear who had to endure these journeys,” he said. He also said these treks give him a newfound sense of appreciation for the things many take for granted, such as air conditioning and other technological conveniences.
Surprisingly, of all the times Smith has traveled these arduous paths, he said he hasn’t encountered any bad experiences, other than being bitten by a bear at a campsite. In fact, he said what amazes him the most about his experiences is how kind everyone has been to him. So far on his Santa Fe Trail journey, he said six people have already stopped to offer him food and water.
“It’s really a statement on America,” he says about the generosity. “Television gives people a skewed view of the world.”
Although Smith said finances are a challenge, he said he has earned incredible experiences that have enriched his life. And he’s not the only one who makes these long journeys, either, he said. He recalled the one time he encountered a 75-year-old named “Nimblewill Nomad” walking the Oregon Trail, and a fellow from Denmark. To see some of Smith’s photography during his travels, visit www.walkingdownadream.com or www.walkingtheoregontrail2012.com . He also has released several coffee table books, notably “Along the Pacific Crest Trail” that can be found on Amazon.com.
By the time you read this story, Smith will have left for his next pit stop, Council Grove, Kansas. However, he said you should expect another full-length book detailing his journeys that should be released later this year.